We were all in the living room. My partner, Chelsea, and I were sitting on the couch alongside our eldest son, Jack, 3. Meanwhile, baby Christopher, 1 today (Happy birthday, Chris!), was loping around the floor somewhere, scanning for toys. Yes, he lopes. He can’t walk; he doesn’t crawl: he simply lopes, balancing on one arm and swinging his body around as he weaves and circles towards his target, his movement styles a mix between a disabled French bell-ringer and Golum from Lord of the Rings.
Today’s topic of discussion was language.
‘Jack,’ said his mum. ‘Tell daddy that new word you invented today.’
Kids love to invent words, don’t they? We were on a family holiday earlier this year, in the exotic Scottish seaside resort of Girvan, and while Jack and I were out for a walk Jack we passed two stone lions positioned either side of a set of stairs. I pointed to them and asked, ‘What do you think their names are?’
‘Entie and Fooamie,’ he asserted, without any hesitation.
I nodded. ‘The one on the left is definitely a Fooamie.’
Back on the couch, Jack looked confused.
‘You know, Jack, that word you told me earlier today,’ his mother said again. ‘You remember.’
He thought for a moment, and then his face lit up with the force of his recognition. I smiled. This was going to be adorable. What was he going to say? Flubbalumptious? Labbabbachook? Skoonsh?
‘Arsehole!’ he shouted.
I laughed. Or rather a laugh shot through my lips like a bullet. My laugh emboldened Jack, spurring him on to fill the room with arseholes. My laughs responded by upgrading into sub-machine-gun fire. This spurred Jack on even more. He was a demon drawing power through an inter-dimensional portal: the power to say ‘arsehole’. By now we were all laughing. Even baby Chris, who’d loped towards the din of our laughter, and hauled himself to his feet at the base of the couch, and proceeded to moo-hah-hah like the world’s tinies evil genius. Chris was just mimicking, of course, like a mini-Predator playing back Billy’s laugh at the end of the original film, but his laugh, our laugh, and the multitude of arseholes, all combined to create a laughter vortex/timeloop from which none of us could escape.
We eventually had to do some damage control.
‘Bet you weren’t expecting him to say that,’ said my partner, rubbing a tear from her eye.
‘Where did he hear that?’ I asked. ‘Neither of us use the word ‘arsehole’.’
‘Arsehole!’ shouted Jack.
‘Jack!’ we both shouted back. But we couldn’t really give him a row. After all, this Pandora’s Box with nothing but arseholes inside had been opened by his mother.
My partner explained that Jack had heard the word weeks ago from, as he described it, a ‘big fat lady’ who was coming out of the toilets in our favourite ice-cream parlor. Chelsea had tried to convince Jack that he’d misheard, and that arsehole wasn’t even a real word: a hard sell in a world that contains Piers Morgan.
I couldn’t resist it.
‘ARSEHOLE!’ Jack screamed with delight.
We fell about laughing again. Chelsea had no choice but to punish me, banishing me from the room just as we would banish Jack if his behaviour ever crossed the line.
‘Daddy, you go and stand outside in the hall for a couple of minutes and think about what you’ve done,’ she said with a smirk that she hid from Jack.
Off I went, head bowed, feet shuffling.
‘I want to go with Daddy!’ shouted Jack.
‘You can’t, Jack, you’re a good boy, only naughty boys get sent out of the room.’
I opened the living room door just as Jack’s brilliant little brain found a solution to the problem of not being naughty enough to accompany me on my exile.
‘Arsehole!’ I heard him shout.
Fifteen seconds later he was standing next to me in the hall, a proud smile on his face. We high-fived.
He’s a clever wee arsehole.